Home state visits by President Obama have been a tricky business for this year's crop of vulnerable Senate Democrats.
So when Obama made his swing through Colorado on Wednesday to raise money for Mark Udall's campaign, the senator opted for the safer move— staying in Washington for a vote and to introduce legislation that may be far more helpful to his campaign than an appearance with the unpopular president.
As Obama was on his way to deliver remarks on the economy in Denver's Cheesman Park on Wednesday morning, Udall held a news conference in Washington with
female senators and House members to announce a new bill that would bar employers from denying contraceptive coverage.
In a direct appeal to women voters, who could be the most crucial swing voters in Colorado's Senate race this year, Udall has made contraceptive coverage a central issue in his campaign. In two of his first three ads, he has criticized the past support of his Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, for state personhood initiatives that could restrict some forms of birth control. (Gardner has disavowed his support for the initiatives, stating that he was not aware that they could have restricted women's access to birth control.)
The new bill, which Udall introduced Wednesday in Washington with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is likely to take center stage in Udall's campaign as he continues to court the votes of single women and unaffiliated Colorado voters who hold moderate positions on social issues.
The legislation is intended as a direct response to the Supreme Court's June 30 Hobby Lobby decision, which gave some for-profit corporations the right to claim a religious exemption to the healthcare law's requirement of contraception coverage. (Gardner praised the ruling as "the right decision … to protect religious liberty and the 1st Amendment.)
Drafted in consultation with the White House, the Murray-Udall bill would restore the legal guarantee that women can get contraceptive coverage through their employer-based insurance plans. Hobby Lobby had claimed religious objections to providing some forms of birth control under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton.
The Murray-Udall bill explicitly states that federal laws — including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — do not exempt employers from the Affordable Care Act's requirement to cover birth control. (Churches and religious nonprofit groups may still claim an exemption under the Obama administration's policies.)
"Women should never have to ask their bosses for a permission slip to access common forms of birth control or other critical services," Udall said at Wednesday's news conference. Udall said the bill would keep "women's private health decisions out of corporate boardrooms, restoring Americans' freedom to make personal healthcare decisions based on what's best for women and their families, not according to their employer's personal beliefs."
Given Republican opposition in the House, the odds of Congress passing the law are slim, but the proposed legislation may provide a useful talking point for Udall and many other Democratic candidates this fall.
Obama did not mention the new legislation at Wednesday's Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in Denver, which helped collect
money for Udall's campaign. But he focused on the Democratic proposal to aid women by raising the minimum wage and said that since the Republicans took over the House they have presided over "the least productive Congress … perhaps in history."
"They've said no to minimum wage. They've said no to fair-pay legislation. They've said no to unemployment insurance extensions," Obama told guests at the private fundraiser, before making a pitch for donors to support Udall.
"Mark Udall is a serious person who is trying to do the right thing and who has the values that we share," the president said. "He is not an ideologue. He doesn't agree with me on everything. But he believes in the core idea — that I think should be what Democrats are all about — this idea that if you work hard you should be able to make it. And he's there on behalf of working families all across Colorado. And that's worth supporting."
Gardner's campaign mocked Udall for skipping Obama's Colorado events. "The only difference between President Obama's campaign speech today and every other one he has given was that Sen. Udall wasn't standing by his side," campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano said. "Sen. Udall has been more than willing to follow the president on everything from healthcare and gun control to energy and out-of-control government spending. Make no mistake about it, a vote for Sen. Udall is a vote to reinforce President Obama's old and tired policies."
Asked about the Udall-Murray bill, Siciliano noted Gardner's recent call for common forms of birth control to be available without a prescription: "Cory believes we need to remove politics from the issue of contraception and sell the pill over the counter; Sen. Udall should follow his lead."